Living abroad is bound to change you. It has definitely changed me. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not going to say that living in Jakarta has completely transformed everything about me, but it has impacted my life in some pretty incredible ways.
If you’ve been following along on this whole journey with me you’ll know that living abroad hasn’t always been a smooth ride for me. But I’m pretty sure that’s normal…right? Ups and downs aside this experience has been a life changing one. Here are just a few of the ways living abroad has changed me.
Why 11? Well, because that’s the number of months I’ve been living in Jakarta!
11 Ways Living Abroad Has Changed My Life…
1. I’m more independent
When I first moved to Jakarta I wrote a post all about the pros and cons of living abroad. In that post I listed “being more independent” under the cons section. I realize that sounds odd, but hear me out.
I knew that even though I was moving to Jakarta with my boyfriend I would still be depending on myself a lot and in ways I never had before. I had no friends and no job. I didn’t know the language or really anything about Jakarta. Aside from Aaron nothing was familiar about this city. And that was terrifying.
I had to depend on myself a lot. I had to figured out where to shop for groceries and how to pay bills (it sounds simple but I assure you it was not!). I had to find a job and navigate this crazy city day in and day out. I had to travel alone (for the first time ever) to go on visa runs. These things pushed me way outside of my comfort zone but I’m so grateful.
I came here a nervous wreck. But looking back at the person who arrived in Jakarta 11 months ago I’m shocked at how much I’ve overcome and how much I’ve grown. The confidence I’ve gained in knowing that I can depend on myself is mind blowing. Don’t get me wrong. I’m still a nervous wreck, always will be, but I’ve come a long way.
2. It led me down a different career path
When I moved to Jakarta I was under the impression that my only option was to teach English. The problem was that I had no real interest in teaching. And considering public speaking is my greatest fear, the whole thing caused me all sorts of stress. It turns out that getting a job in Indonesia is complex and the visa process takes many, many months. So I started exploring other avenues. My education and background is actually in journalism and magazine writing, a career I had pretty much given up on three years ago.
But with no other options in Jakarta I started sending out applications and pitch letters. It took a few months but I finally started getting writing gigs. It was an amazing feeling to see my name in print after such a long hiatus. And it was the first time I’d ever published travel articles, which was a dream come true for me. It feels so good to make a (small) living doing something that I truly love. Had I not moved abroad I might never have tried writing for a living again. Looking back I am so glad the whole teaching English thing didn’t work out!
3. I met people I would have never met in the US
I think this is the reason most people choose to live abroad. We all want to be as immersed in a new place and a new culture as possible. Meeting locals is a huge part of living abroad.
Jakarta hasn’t been the easiest place to be a newbie expat, but for me personally it was the people I met who made living here such a special experience. Seriously, never did I think that I could befriend people who are so different than me. I’ve met people from all walks of life. They come from every corner of Indonesia and various countries around the world. They are Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Christian and agnostic.
It is amazing to me that I could bond so easily with people who are so fundamentally different from me. But we were able to bond over our sarcastic senses of humor, our genuine curiosities in one another, our hatred of Jakarta’s traffic jams. We might be different people from different backgrounds but we are all just people. And I’ve met some incredible ones here in Jakarta.
4. I learned that it’s okay to take the unconventional route in life
I’ve never led a so-called “normal” life. My friends and family back home have always thought that my penny pinching and constant need to travel was a little odd. (It’s okay guys…I can admit that I’m a little odd.) Now that I’m 33 my life decisions are even more mind boggling to most people back home. While most of my friends back in California are getting married, buying houses, having kids or pursuing successful careers, I don’t have any plans of doing these things. Aside from the career part, that is.
This has always been a sensitive issue for me. I’ve had more than a few breakdowns about what it is that I’m doing with my life. And I’m certain I’ll have many more. But now that I’m making a life and career for myself abroad and meeting so many like-minded people, I’ve started to feel much more at peace with and confident about my life decisions. Because ultimately I just want to do what it is that makes me happy. And seeing the world, writing about it and feeling like I’m living each day to the fullest makes me happy.
5. I’ve been able to travel more
Southeast Asia used to be a place I could only visit once every few years from the states. And even then I could only manage to travel for a few weeks at a time. While I don’t get to travel as much as I’d like (which would be always) living abroad means that Southeast Asia is my playground. In the past 11 months I’ve been able to take weekend trips to Bali, vacations to Cambodia, visa runs to Singapore and Malaysia and beach runs to the Philippines (I’ll be there in a couple days!). Being in such close proximity to so many amazing countries has been a dream come true for me.
6. I realized I don’t need a lot to be happy
Living in Southeast Asia has made me realize that I can live on very little money every month and still be perfectly content. One of the perks of being an expat in Southeast Asia is that the cost of living is so much less than in the US, especially Southern California. I have been able to live incredibly comfortably on way less than $1000 a month in Jakarta. And supposedly the cost of living will be even less in Phnom Penh. It’s nice not having to work myself to death at a job I hate just to struggle to pay my bills or take vacations. Being able to live in a decent apartment, travel when I want and go out to dinner or a movie makes me perfectly content. Like I said, I don’t need a lot to be happy.
I suppose I really learned this lesson during my year-long backpacking trip. But living abroad has also made me realize that I don’t need tons of stuff. I’ve always been kind of a minimalist and I’ve never been what you’d call a materialistic person. Even still, when I moved out of my house in San Diego in 2013 it astonished me just how much stuff I had accumulated over the years.
Seriously, my garage was stuffed with all sorts of knick knacks that hadn’t been used in years and years. I took a different approach in Jakarta. I can still literally fit all of my possession into two suitcases. And there’s something incredibly freeing about that.
7. I seek out things that make me uncomfortable
This is something I typically do when I travel, but this is not something I do in my normal life. I don’t like feeling uncomfortable! But I suppose when you live abroad you don’t really have a choice…and I’m starting to like that aspect of living abroad.
One thing I didn’t expect about moving abroad was that I would actively seek out things that make me feel uncomfortable. Like that time I took off to Bali on my first-ever solo trip or signed up to attend my first-ever travel blogging conference. These things scare me, and I would have never considered doing them before I moved abroad. But now I know that these things are going to ultimately be awesome experiences that will help me grow both personally and professionally.
It might sound cliché, but at this point in my life I’m all about growing and stepping outside of my comfort zone and living abroad has helped me to do just that.
8. I’ve learned to be more open and patient
I’ve always tried to be an open-minded person and I’m a firm believer that traveling has really helped me to be more open. But there is something about living abroad that sort of forces you to keep opening your mind. If you don’t you might just hate the experience!
Living abroad, I’ve encountered all sorts of quirky cultural customs. While I’ve adapted to many of them, there are still so many that leave me baffled and even upset. There are a lot of things about life in Indonesia that I wouldn’t necessarily tolerate back in the US (like my really annoying upstairs neighbors). But I’ve had to learn to be more patient, otherwise living in Jakarta might have driven me insane!
9. I’m no longer so fearful of the unknown
Not knowing what’s going to come next has always scared the hell out of me. It’s not like I’m some great planner or anything…in fact the opposite is true. But I still don’t like the feeling of not knowing what’s going to come next.
When I was backpacking around Southeast Asia and South America last year, I really disliked the fact that I had no real plan for what would come next. When I moved abroad to Jakarta I hated the fact that I didn’t have a job lined up. It was probably my number one source of anxiety. But now that I’m moving to Phnom Penh, I’m slightly more relaxed about not knowing exactly where I’ll live or where my next paycheck is going to come from. That’s the thing about living abroad…you never know what’s going to happen. And it’s kind of exciting knowing that anything is possible.
10. It led to Cambodia
Seriously, if you’d asked me what I was going to do after my year in Jakarta was finished my answer would have been, “I have no idea!” But that’s the thing about living abroad…you have no idea where it’s going to lead. For me, or shall I say for Aaron and I, it led to moving to Cambodia. It turns out that getting experience teaching at international universities makes you pretty competitive in the international market. Aaron’s job in Jakarta opened doors in multiple other countries, which is amazing for travel fiends like us. And after our time in Cambodia is up who knows where it will lead. (Maybe Europe? Just putting it out there…)
11. I learned that things have a way of working out
I tend to be more on the pessimistic side, so this isn’t something I’d typically say. But my experience during the last two years has made me a believer. I put an absurd amount of energy into being stressed out about what I was going to do after our big backpacking trip. And then Jakarta happened. In Jakarta I spent months worrying about getting a job teaching English and then my freelance writing career started to take off. I spent months freaking out about where Aaron and I would move after Jakarta. And then Cambodia happened. You get the point…
Somehow things just have a way of working out. And I’m so excited to see where else this crazy living abroad journey is going to take me. I really do feel like the world is my oyster!